THREE OAKS — The Three Oaks Village Council looked forward to Christmas celebrations in the village, welcomed recently elected members, and discussed how best to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic during its Nov. 11 regular meeting.
Village President-Elect Richard Smith (set to be sworn in at the December council meeting) reported that the Christmas Tree-Lighting Ceremony is scheduled to take place Saturday, Nov. 28, in Carver Park during the Snowflake Stroll sponsored by local merchants.
“We are looking to light the tree around 6 O’Clock,” he said.
It also was reported by Becky Thomas (a member of both the Village Council and the Parks & Recreation board) that a newly planted Norway Spruce will be lit this year.
Smith noted that the large tree at the corner of the park used for the last few years required the rental of a lift to replace the lights “every time the squirrels decided to lunch on our Christmas tree lights.”
Thomas said “anti-squirrel lights” will be affixed to the new tree.
According to a Nov. 16 announcement, stores, boutiques and galleries will stay open late (until 8 p.m. at least) for the Sixth Annual Three Oaks Snowflake Stroll. Organizers of the celebration of small, local, independent retailers said they will follow all COVID guidelines: merchants will operate with limited occupancy to allow for proper social distancing. Masks are required and all merchants will provide masks if needed.
Smith said the village’s Christmas Parade is slated to take place on Dec. 12.
“We will reconvene down at Carver Park with Santa so the kids can safely distance, send their well-wishes to Santa. We are working on having a candy cane chute made (so) Santa can send candy canes to the kids,” he added.
The 12 days of Christmas Celebration scheduled for Dec. 12 is set to start at 5:30 p.m., while a Prancer Open House is slated for 2 to 8 p.m. that day at Heritage Hall.
The worsening coronavirus pandemic was discussed at length during the Nov. 11 Village Council meeting.
Village Manager Dan Faulkner said it remains to be seen how meetings will be held after Jan. 1, adding that “we did have a scare in the office and if we can do anything possible, with all of your consent I would like to continue doing this.”
Village Attorney Charles Hilmer said he thinks the village will be able to continue with virtual meetings after the first of the year, depending on the facts and circumstances.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Ellie Mullens asked the village to “support the safety of our residents, our labor force and our visitors by making public that the village will make an effort to keep everyone safe.”
Mullens said during a recent road trip she saw signs posted in different communities saying things like “wear a mask for our safety and yours.”
She said some of those towns also shared information on their websites covering subjects such as where and how to get tested.
“I think our village has a chance here to work together as a community, and maybe engage the community on this by like having a competition for a slogan like ‘Three Oaks Cares’ or ‘Mask Up Three Oaks.’” The possibility of putting up signs also was discussed.
Suzanna Bierwirth said she thinks it’s time to show that the village is united in its COVID response “and that we do enforce the law.”
“We have a lot of visitors coming to town that need to be able to trust us,” she said, mentioning contact tracing and occupancy as relevant issues.
Council member Colleen Newquist asked “how do we as a village actually enforce the rules around COVID?”
Faulkner said the Berrien County Health Department is currently handling and enforcing those rules, adding that the village doesn’t have the staff to make sure state coronavirus mandates are being followed at every business.
Graziano said he feels it’s a county issue, adding “anybody can make a phone call.”
He also said police officers could remind people of the rules if they see something while in duty.
Also on Nov. 11, newly elected Village Council members Tyler Ream and Joe Hinman, along with Smith, were welcomed (they are set to be sworn in at the December regular meeting).
Steve Graziano (who ran the meeting as President Pro Tem) said he thinks he was Hinman’s government government teacher in school.
“So now it’s kind of cool that we can serve in public government.”
Kramer also was re-elected on Nov. 3 (he has served 36 years).
Graziano thanked John Pappa and Troy Zebell for their service on the council.
“I think they did a great job as council members. I think they did what they thought was best and worked hard. And I truly believe they left this village better than they found it,” he said.
In another Nov. 11 matter, Faulkner said the issue of how to deal with differences between the Village Council-passed marihuana ordinances and the ballot proposal that was approved on Nov. 3 faces village officials.
He said the decision of whether to let the courts decide how to proceed or amending the village’s ordinances to align with the ballot initiative seems to be the main decision.
“I want everyone to keep in mind the ballot initiative language was vague,” Faulkner said.
Graziano said he thinks the new council members set to be seated in December need to have input on the issue.
The ballot initiative also passed in Three Oaks Township on Election Day.
Township Supervisor George Mangold on Nov. 16 reported that Township Attorney David Peterson has been informed of the results of the Nov. 3 referendum “and is starting the process of review of the State of Michigan Marijuana regulations. After legal review the Ordinance process will
begin with the Township Planning Commission.”
In other Nov. 11 business, the Three Oaks Village Council:
• Were told by Newquist that during its November meeting the Planning Commission discussed rezoning a building at 23 West Ash St. (a former ice cream shop called Spanky’s) from residential to commercial. She said planners asked for more information for its next meeting.
• OK’d having Roberts Services replace the furnace and air conditioning units at the Water Department for $6,920.13.
• Approved a new snowplow and removal agreement with the Three Oaks Township Library after Faulkner noted that the library used a private firm last year, but had requested that the village plow their parking lot this winter for an annual fee of $850.
• Approved a request from Faulkner for $8,500 to fund soil borings and the installation of wells to advance a multi-step monitoring program at the village’s sewage treatment lagoons. He said the aim is to start sampling at the wells in early 2021, and later said over the next year such sampling will determine if there is contamination and if yes how much. Permitting and planning for re-lining the lagoons if that is deemed necessary (starting with lagoon 3) also is being recommended for the near future, although Faulkner noted that not all of the details have been released yet.
• Heard council member Becky Thomas report that the Parks and Recreation Board OK’d having a plaque installed at the Chamberlain Path recognizing The Pokagon Fund for its support of recent improvements and additions there.
• Bierwirth said the DDA plans to put up evergreen wreaths downtown in time for the Nov. 28 Snowflake Stroll.
• Faulkner said a project to replace burned-out lights at Watkins Park is expected to be completed by next spring.
• Faulkner said a new police interceptor vehicle has been picked up and should be on the road by the first of the year.
• Approved Christmas bonus $100 gift cards for full-time village employees and $50 for part-time workers and village board members (including those serving on the Park Board, DDA, Planning Commission, etc.).